Through NIH Research, Biology Major Continues Working Toward Goal of Attending M.D./Ph.D. Program

Last summer, biology major Sunny Greene ’19 was part of a research team in the Undiagnosed Diseases Program (UDP) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). One of only 1,300 students chosen to work in the program from over 10,000 national and international applicants, Greene spent 12 weeks investigating a rare genetic disorder called Chediak-Higashi Disease (CHD), of which there are only 300 cases known worldwide.

The NIH experience offered Greene valuable credentials and crucial preparation for achieving her goal of gaining acceptance to one of the nation’s highly selective M.D./Ph.D. programs, so she was delighted when the UDP invited her back this summer to continue her research into CHD.

“I was back in the same lab working with the same people, but this summer’s research focused on a different facet of the disease,” she explains. “Last year, I primarily conducted tissue culture experiments on fibroblast skin cells, but this year I was studying CHD’s neuropathology.”

While the classic CHD case affects children and is characterized by partial albinism, easy bruising, prolonged bleeding and clotting issues, and immunodeficiency, adult sufferers of CHD are prone to experiencing neurological symptoms similar to Parkinson’s: balance issues, motor skill loss, and/or some developmental delay. “We have no idea what causes these neurological symptoms, so I did a lot of experiments on the neuropathology of the mouse models of CHD.”

Greene zeroed in two factors that cause Parkinson’s, the first being Purkinje cell loss in the cerebellum. “This part of the brain is located at the base of the skull and Purkinje cells are responsible for the cerebellum’s role in managing motor function. One theory is that Purkinje cell loss or death might cause Parkinson’s, because if you lose them, they never grow back, and you’re going to lose motor function over time.”

She also explored a particular pathway in the brain that, if not functioning correctly, could create symptoms of Parkinson’s. “An enzyme called tyrosine hydroxylase, or TH for short, is part of this pathway and it converts the amino acid L-DOPA into dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps in part to regulate movement. If TH isn’t functioning properly, you’re stuck with just L-DOPA and you’re not going to have enough dopamine.”

While this research shows promise, Greene says much of her work proved frustrating. But, she found that her experience with failure as a researcher last summer with NIH was invaluable in building her persistence and resilience.

“What I learned from my epigenetic reading is that the essence of research is that you’re not trying to prove anything, you’re trying to disprove something. In order to be successful, you have to fail. Goodness knows, I failed so many times this summer, but I was more prepared for it having gone through it the previous summer.”

Greene was also ready to handle lab politics for the first time. “The research world can be dog-eat-dog and very competitive. Sometimes egos get into the way of each other. But I drew upon my experience from the Batten Leadership Institute (BLI) at Hollins to deal with that, and as a result I feel that someday I can be a successful leader in the lab.”

Greene says she is tentatively planning to work at NIH again next summer as a springboard to gaining one to two more years of solid research experience, a prerequisite for many M.D./Ph.D. programs. In the meantime, she’s enjoying her senior year experience at Hollins. “It’s a time to reflect and enjoy where you are and who you are, and so honestly my goal this year is to have fun with that. I’m taking Latin 101 and learning about Roman culture, and I’m also taking a theatre appreciation class because I’ve always loved theatre, and I’m mentoring students through BLI.

“I want to do things to make myself a well-rounded person. M.D./Ph.D. programs want to see that. Of course, they want to know that you are dedicated to your science, but they also want to know what you’re doing outside of that to enrich your research.”

 


Senior Gains Crucial International Experience Close to Home

During her distinguished college career, Hanna Strauss ’19 has studied Arabic in Oman, completed a fellowship in Qatar, and spent an entire academic term living and studying in Cuba.

But this past summer, a part of the globe – one particular continent, to be exact – came to her.

Strauss worked with the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), a U.S. State Department program established in 2014 to promote economic growth and prosperity and bolster democracy in Africa. Each year, YALI brings 700 young African leaders to the United States to network with one another and with the American people.

Specifically, Strauss served as a summer program associate with a subsection of the YALI program called the Presidential Precinct, which was held largely at sites located just a few miles from her hometown of Keswick, Virginia. Featuring the homes of three U.S. presidents (Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, James Madison’s Montpelier, and James Monroe’s Highland) as well as such historic institutions as the University of Virginia and Morven in Charlottesville and the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, the Presidential Precinct hosts representatives from across the African continent for six weeks of leadership training, academic coursework, and mentoring.

“They live at and learn about all these different sites and get to interact with activists who are involved with various initiatives here in the States,” Stauss explains. “Then they get to bring those connections when they return home to what they’re doing in their own communities. I met leaders from 16 different countries with a wide range of backgrounds and interests. Everyone I met was amazing.”

Strauss partnered with a fourth-year student at the University of Virginia and focused on meeting the Presidential Precinct’s needs for digital media and public image communications. Through her work, the double-major in Spanish and political science says she bonded with “a lot of activists who are doing things that I am interested in: human rights, women’s rights, and disability rights.”

While she is grateful for the opportunities she’s had to study abroad as a Hollins student, Stauss believes her summer internship with the Presidential Precinct was equally as important in terms of worldly experience. “This was completely new. I’ve never done anything like this before. I’ve never been to Africa, so just the idea of traveling there and then actually meeting people who came from different countries was such an incredible honor. Everything I learned this summer is going to help me. It definitely gave me more perspective and just really validated why I chose Hollins and why I needed to have a liberal arts education.”

This year, Strauss is serving as president of Hollins’ Student Government Association. She is drawing upon all her experiences over the past three years to inform how she leads and works effectively toward achieving what she sees as her highest priority, building a more inclusive campus.

“Through actions as well as words, I want to make sure everyone knows their voice is important. There’s no reason someone should leave Hollins believing their voice is worth less than anyone else’s. That’s the whole point of empowering people.”


Film Major’s LGBT Short Is a YouTube Sensation

A Hollins University student filmmaker is generating impressive online buzz with her unconventional approach to the LGBT movie genre.

Collide, a short film written and directed by Hannah Thompson ’20, has been seen more than 510,000 times since it premiered on YouTube in December 2016.

“I wanted to do something original that I could relate to,” says Thompson, a double-major in film and psychology from Warrenton, Virginia. “A lot of LGBT short films are also geared toward a straight audience by featuring two fem lesbians and portraying sexual situations. They can make more money that way, but it has always made me feel uncomfortable.”

Collide is the story of two young women who dislike one another intensely upon their first meeting in a high school classroom. But when their teacher pairs them on a project that focuses on conquering their individual fears, a friendship blossoms and they ultimately fall in love.

“Coming out is not a main plot point,” Thompson explains. “There’s no tragic story where being gay is their downfall. Their sexuality is never mentioned. It’s just something that happens similar to any straight love story. I wanted people to watch Collide and say, ‘Wow, I’ve had this happen to me.’”

Based on the more than 1,100 comments that have been posted on YouTube since the film’s debut, Collide has clearly touched many. Thompson believes it’s because the story “ends happily. We’re excited for what’s to come, and people understand that the two main characters are going to be together. Often, especially in popular films, it doesn’t happen that way. I wanted something that was easy for people to latch onto, and I’m grateful they did.”

Thompson says she’s been humbled by what people have shared. Feedback has often been along the lines of, “I don’t really see happy lesbian stories. I’m so glad to find something relatable instead of watching a heterosexual romance and hoping I can find something that’s meaningful to me.” Viewers overseas have expressed this common sentiment: “This isn’t legal here, but I’m so glad to see something like this. It makes me feel that maybe one day I can have this life.”

The film has also inspired fan fiction and even prompted Halloween revelers to dress up as the film’s characters. In March, Unite UK: An LGBT+ Blog Uniting the Community Together, interviewed Thompson and members of the film’s cast for a feature story, and last summer, Collide was an official selection as a semi-finalist at Canada’s Our Voices Film Festival.

Thompson’s journey of artistic discovery that ultimately led to filmmaking was by no means pre-determined. She attended art classes and camps from an early age, “but I couldn’t find the thing I was best at. I did theatre, studio art, photography, and I was mediocre at all those things. I never really found what I loved until I took a film class at Hollins.”

Growing up, Thompson was familiar with Hollins because her grandmother is an alumna. In her early teens, at her grandmother’s urging, Thompson attended Hollinsummer, the university’s educational camp for rising ninth through 12th grade girls. “I was scared because it was my first sleepaway camp,” she recalls, “but I loved the campus. It was the first time I’d ever been away from home that I wasn’t homesick. I felt like it was sort of my place.”

That impression still resonated with Thompson when she was applying to colleges a few years later. “Even though I had been at Hollins a lot, I went ahead and did a real campus tour. I remember turning to my mom and saying, ‘This is it.’”

Thompson initially thought she’d major only in psychology, but her artistic drive persisted despite her previous frustrations. Since film was a genre she had not actively pursued previously, she decided to enroll in a video production class her first year. “I was nervous because it was the first film class I had ever taken. I worried, ‘What if this doesn’t go well for me?’ I don’t like not being good at things.”

Fortunately, Thompson quickly found an ally in Amy Gerber-Stroh, associate professor of film and chair of Hollins’ film department. An accomplished filmmaker in her own right, Gerber-Stroh helped Thompson build her confidence and realize film making was the artistic outlet she had been seeking.

“Amy has changed my life in so many different ways. Coming into Hollins, I was afraid I wasn’t going to find the thing I could pour my entire heart into. I felt like I had so much to say and I didn’t know where to put it.”

With guidance from Gerber-Stroh and other faculty as well as the support of her fellow film students, Thompson says she “has a home in the film department. It’s this place where I can be myself and share my art. Sometimes you have to do that when your work is incomplete and therefore at its most vulnerable, but I’ve learned that’s okay because students and mentors are always there to help, especially when you’re flustered and your ideas aren’t working out.”

Thompson now has four films available online. Another short, August and the Rain Boots (2017), is similar to Collide in that it tells the story of a friendship that grows into a romantic relationship and ends on a celebratory note. The film boasts more than 192,000 YouTube views and was recently selected to appear at the Oregon Cinema Arts Film Festival.

“Hannah has become such a superstar through our film program,” Gerber-Stroh says. “It’s remarkable how often she gets requests from advertisers, actors, and others from the film industry asking for a chance to work with her. She epitomizes this new era of how students make films and videos and how they show their work.”

Thompson plans to go to Los Angeles after graduating from Hollins. “I want to be a director for the rest of my life, telling my stories and working with amazing people.”

 

Photo caption: Hannah Thompson ’20 shoots a scene for her 2017 short film, August and the Rain Boots. 


Summer Internships Prep STEM Students for Postgraduate Success

Four rising Hollins University seniors who intend to pursue careers in STEM fields got the chance this summer to intern at one of the nation’s foremost academic medical centers.

Biology majors Ya Gao and Assma Shabab and chemistry majors Veronica Able-Thomas and Rania Asif spent eight weeks in June and July working at the NYU Langone Medical Center in Manhattan.

“Growing numbers of Hollins students are interested in STEM fields,” said Karen Cardozo, Hollins’ executive director of career development. To help STEM students become more competitive candidates for postgraduate education, she called upon her brother, Timothy J. Cardozo, who is an associate professor in the department of biochemistry and molecular pharmacology at NYU Langone.

“Tim generously agreed to open a special Hollins pipeline to his lab at NYU for a pilot program this summer,” Karen Cardozo explained. “As an interdisciplinary researcher with dual degrees, he’s an especially flexible mentor, able to support students with a wide variety of interests.”

The internship program furthers Timothy Cardozo’s relationship with Hollins. Last April, he participated in a “PreMed Plus” panel at the university, joining alumnae and others who hold a variety of roles in a range of healthcare fields. He also provided informal mentoring to students especially interested in the M.D. and/or Ph.D. tracks.

Karen Cardozo praised “the incredible generosity of Hollins also who stepped up immediately as donors when the opportunity arose to place these students at NYU.”


Hollins Names Diane Edison Artist-in-Residence for 2019

One of the country’s most prominent professors of studio art whose work has appeared nationally in New York, Philadelphia, and Atlanta, and internationally in Russia and Chad, will serve as Hollins University’s Frances Niederer Artist-in-Residence in 2019.

Diane Edison, who is professor of art at the University of Georgia’s Lamar Dodd School of Art, will spend Spring Term 2019 on the Hollins campus. The artist-in-residence program enables the university to bring a recognized artist to campus every year to work in a campus studio and teach an art seminar open to all students. During their time at Hollins, the artist-in-residence is a vital part of the university and greater Roanoke communities.

Edison, who creates her work using color pencil on black paper, focuses on portraiture with an emphasis on the autobiographical.  Her images are thematically narrative in presentation and psychological in nature. New York City’s Forum Gallery, DC Moore Gallery, and Tatischef Gallery; the Leeway Foundation in Philadelphia; and Clark Atlanta University in Georgia are among the U.S. venues where her art has been exhibited or collected. Overseas, her paintings have been on display in the official residences of the American ambassadors in Moscow, Russia, and N’djamena, Chad.

Edison’s exhibitions have been reviewed by The New York Times, The New Yorker magazine, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Philadelphia Enquirer, Art News, and the St. Louis Dispatch. Reproductions of her artwork were featured twice in Artists Magazine. In 2010-11, she traveled to Bulgaria as a Fulbright Scholar, and she is a past recipient of the Anonymous Was a Woman Award and the Georgia Women in the Arts Recognition Award. Her textbook, Dynamic Color Painting for Beginners, came out in 2008 and subsequently was published in the United Kingdom, China, and Spain.


GWS Major to Help Further Awareness, Deliver Resources to Stop Intimate Partner Violence

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is a worldwide health problem whose prevalence is staggering. The American Psychological Association notes that in the United States alone:

  • More than one in three women and more than one in four men have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
  • Seventy-four percent of all murder-suicides involved an intimate partner (spouse, common-law spouse, ex-spouse, or boyfriend/girlfriend). Of these, 96 percent were women killed by their intimate partners.
  • One in five female high school students reports being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner.
  • IPV is the leading cause of female homicides and injury-related deaths during pregnancy.
  • The percentage of women who consider their mental health to be poor is almost three times higher among women with a history of violence than among those without.
  • Women with disabilities have a 40 percent greater risk of IPV, especially severe violence, than women without disabilities.

Compounding the crisis, IPV is “underreported, underrecognized, and underaddressed” by healthcare professionals, according to a 2016 article in American Family Physician.

However, one organization has been a catalyst for growing awareness of IPV and providing resources to those who experience it, particularly young people who have suffered from dating abuse and domestic violence. For the past 15 years, Day One has delivered crucial education and services to the youth of New York City. To date, the non-profit has educated more than 75,000 young people on ways to “identify and maintain healthy relationships, obtain legal protection when necessary, and assist others experiencing abuse.”

During January Short Term this year, Whitney McWilliams ’18, a gender and women’s studies (GWS) major and social justice minor who graduated in May, interned with Day One. “More than anything I think the internship showed me the bridge between theory and practice.”

McWilliams was responsible for planning and facilitating the You(th) Already Know! Conference for New York City Youth and Adult Allies. “We gathered to explore themes of healthy relationships, self-defense, self-care, and race/class/gender issues that intersect with the violence of intimate relationships,” she explains. Day One was so impressed with her work that they have invited her to return to the organization this summer.

For McWilliams, working with Day One gave her the chance to draw upon what she had learned as a GWS major.

“GWS changed my outlook on life. It made me critical and challenging. It made me aware of my suffering that in turn made me angry. With that awareness there was fire, but that fire energized me in a way that healed me from the burn-out that was essential to my journey. That energy showed me the healing potential for love and compassion. It showed me the potential for our worlds and for our sociopolitical transcendence – a movement for peace and against suffering. It also showed me my personal potential for growth and that I am the embodiment of all that I have learned.”

Another pivotal moment during McWilliams’ career at Hollins was her pioneering work in helping launch the Hollins Heritage Committee, a group of students, faculty, and staff dedicated to promoting campus-wide dialogue on issues of collective memory, diversity, and reconciliation. “The committee is tasked with bringing the popular history of Hollins to the forefront. It is to decolonize knowledge and bring to the people the truths of Hollins’ history, most specifically Hollins’ relationship to slavery and race relations on campus. Theirs is a voice that is needed for those who have been silenced by the institution.

“I will be checking in to make sure the committee moves to incorporate the voices of staff and employees as they point to class exploitation, as well as trans and non-binary voices as they speak to Hollins’ investment in gender hierarchy, and the voices of natives as Hollins occupies sacred land.”


Summer Tick Study to Aid in Understanding the Spread of Lyme Disease

In the fight to stop the spread of Lyme disease in the United States, one crucial question has baffled scientists: Why is the disease so prevalent in the northeastern U.S., but in the southeast, relatively few cases have been reported? The trend persists even though the blacklegged ticks (also called deer ticks) that transmit Lyme through their bites can be found throughout the eastern part of the country.

Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies/Environmental Science Liz Gleim, who is also a tick biologist, says one hypothesis has recently gained traction: the possibility that “the northern and southern populations of the blacklegged tick are genetically distinct, and that difference manifests itself in terms of how ticks quest for a host. A questing tick is one that’s crawling up on the tips of vegetation and hoping a human or animal host is going to brush up against them and they can hop a ride.”

Northern ticks have been found to be far more aggressive when questing and thus more likely to get on people than southern ticks, who tend to live in leaf litter where humans are less prone to come in contact with them.

Even within Virginia, Gleim notes that ticks from the coastal, central, and southwestern parts of the state exhibit different questing behaviors from one another. This phenomenon is the basis for a project this summer in which Gleim is collaborating with scientists from Old Dominion University and the University of Richmond to discover what makes ticks tick.

“Ticks along the coast are generally not as aggressive as those here in the Roanoke area. So what we’re doing is collecting ticks locally, around Richmond, and along the Virginia seaboard, sort of an east-west gradient, in the hope that we get populations that may be showing different questing behaviors,” Gleim explains. “Is their behavior actually controlled by genes, or it prompted by three distinctive climates? The hope is that we’ll be able to find out.”

Tick Arenas 2
Tick arenas have been placed in the woods adjacent to the Hollins campus to study the behavior of the parasites that will be brought in from throughout Virginia.

Gleim and her fellow researchers are taking the ticks they gather between Roanoke, Richmond, and the coast, and placing them in what she describes as “tick arenas,” containers that are located in mature hardwood forest areas, the preferred habitat of blacklegged ticks. At Hollins, the tick arenas have been situated in the woods adjacent to the northeastern part of campus.

“It’s a very cool way in which we can take advantage of our beautiful natural forests that are convenient to campus,” Gleim states. “We’re really lucky because the folks who are conducting research in Richmond and on the coast are having to use public lands, so they have to go through the process of working with state and public officials and securing permission.”

Students from Hollins and the University of Richmond will be working with Gleim on the project at the Hollins site. “They’ll be coming out multiple times a week to make observations on the ticks to see what sorts of questing behaviors they are exhibiting.”

Tick Arenas 3
Associate Prof. of Biology Liz Gleim (left) and biology lab technician Cheryl Taylor prepare a forest space for a tick arena installation.

Faculty members from the biology and environmental studies/environmental science programs at Hollins assisted Gleim in constructing the tick arenas and addressing a key concern: how to ensure the ticks they’re studying stay in place while keeping out the ticks that already live in the surrounding forest. “We’re putting sterilized leaf litter into the containers so that we’re certain we’re not inadvertently picking up ticks that aren’t part of our research,” Gleim says. “Installing metal flashing and chicken wire will not only help us keep ticks out but also prevent small mammals or wildlife from entering the arenas. The last zone of defense is this sticky material that’s almost like a paste that we use to coat the inside of each area. So, any ticks that try to leave or enter the arenas will get stuck.”

Gleim and her fellow researchers will be placing ticks in the arenas during the last couple of weeks in May. The study will continue through early and mid-July to coincide with when the blacklegged tick is naturally active.

Conducting tick research at Hollins is fitting. As Gleim notes, “Roanoke itself is a major focal point for Lyme disease. If you look at a map of Lyme cases in the U.S., there’s literally this bright red spot on Roanoke. Areas north of here have a seen a lot of it, too, but southward, there isn’t much. One theory is that northern ticks are making their way down through the mountains to the southern region.”

 

Featured photo: Associate Professor of Biology Morgan Wilson (left) and Professor of Biology Renee Godard work on several of the tick arenas that will facilitate this summer’s study of blacklegged tick behavior and the impact of genetics versus the environment.

 

 


“I Want to Make a Difference in Jamaica’s Healthcare System”: Senior’s Goal Is Opening Maternal Health Ed. Center in Home Country

Two summers ago, Roshaye Graham ’18 returned home to Jamaica to face a family crisis: her grandmother, a woman she considered to be her “second mother,” was terminally ill with cancer. For the biology major, the experience was both heartbreaking and infuriating.

“I witnessed firsthand the critical need for healthcare providers to not only devote time and care to their patients, but to also adequately and accurately inform caregivers of their loved one’s condition,” she recalls. “I had presumed the doctors would have informed my family about my grandmother’s condition, but found that they knew relatively little except that her body was rapidly deteriorating. When I finally heard from a doctor, I learned that her oncologist had continued chemotherapy irrespective of the fact that after each treatment my grandmother showed significant and continued decline of memory and overall physiological function, and the appearance of her ulcerating tumor grew worse.”

Told there was little more the medical community could do, Graham and her family were advised to take her grandmother home. “So that’s what we did. Every day for the next nine weeks, my grandfather and I fed, bathed, dressed, and comforted this beautiful woman until she passed.  While I felt liberated to know I was helping her, I was frustrated that I had not been given any clear understanding of her treatment and continued to be concerned that she had not received the best medical care.”

Graham says her grandmother’s ordeal furthered her interest in a healthcare career and sparked her desire to help patients and their families as they face some of life’s toughest challenges and decisions. Now, she is preparing to enroll at the American University of Antigua College of Medicine, where she plans to become an OB-GYN.

After her grandmother’s death, Graham’s interest in research and finding answers led her to complete two neurobiological research internships at The Rockefeller University in New York City, where she worked closely with distinguished neuroscientist Mary Beth Hatten ’71. “I couldn’t help but dream how exciting it would be to carry out studies in the same way that would aid in the medical field,” she says.

As an OB-GYN, Graham wants to open a maternal health education center in her home country. “The World Health Organization has found that nearly all deaths that result from complications in pregnancy and childbirth occur in women residing in developing countries such as Jamaica. While it is dismaying, I recognize that most of these deaths are often preventable.

“By obtaining a medical degree, I would be able to use my knowledge and skills to reduce these statistics. I want to make a difference in Jamaica’s healthcare system, and my determination, commitment, and passion will enable me to be successful.”

 

Photo by Michael Falco


Vet School Next Stop for Bio Major Who Conducted Amazon Rainforest Research

Katlin Gott ’18 came to Hollins four years ago with a goal of becoming a veterinarian, and now the biology major and chemistry minor has earned the opportunity to take the next major step in making her dream a reality.

The senior from Fairfax, Virginia, has been accepted at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine in Blacksburg, a leading biomedical teaching and research center. The college admits just 50 Virginia residents to its Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.) program each year.

Gott complemented her classroom and lab work at Hollins by working as a veterinary assistant and completing internships in Roanoke and elsewhere, including a Signature internship in West Virginia with veterinary physician and Hollins alumna Jacqueline Chevalier ’01.

Another highlight of Gott’s academic career was spending Spring Term of her junior year in the rainforests of Peru with the School for Field Studies Center for Amazon Studies. While there, she was able to combine her interests in ecology and animal disease by studying gut parasite loads in primates. Her research project, “The Effect of Environmental Factors on Endoparasite Load and Diversity in Black-Capped Night Monkeys (Aotus Nigriceps),” was featured at Hollins’ 61st Annual Science Seminar last month.

“Our results suggest that human disturbance significantly increases parasite species diversity based on the changes in forest density,” Gott reports. “Future research will focus on determining if the degree of forest disturbance plays a role in these relationships, and if zoonotic transmission of parasites between humans and the black-capped night monkeys is occurring.”

Along with her academic work, Gott has been actively involved in a range of campus activities. Along with serving as vice president of the Pre-Med Club, she has represented the group Voices for Unity in the SGA Senate, and, she adds, “I also play guitar, and I’ve been a part of ensembles and played as an accompanying guitarist for a few choral events.”

Gott will begin pursuit of her D.V.M. degree this fall.

 


Dance Major Taking Commitment to Artistry, Social Justice to L.A. and London after Graduation

Epitomizing Hollins University’s enduring slogan artistically, geographically, and academically, Paris Williams ’18 is definitely going places after she graduates this spring.

The dance major, who hails from New Orleans, will be pursuing her Master of Fine Arts degree in choreography beginning in the fall of 2019 at London’s University of Roehampton, whose international status draws students and dance artists from around the world.

But before that, Williams is anticipating a very exciting and productive gap year more than 5,400 miles away. First, she’s been awarded a full scholarship to attend the Dance/USA 2018 Annual Conference, which takes place June 6 – 9 in Los Angeles. According to the conference website, the event enables participants to “network and learn from nearly 500 dance professionals including executive directors, artistic directors, emerging arts leaders, artists, agents, company managers, presenters, development and marketing staff, and more. Conference programming is shaped around issues of equity and justice, community and collaboration, audience development, and preservation and legacy.”

Then, Williams will remain in L.A. to complete a residency with No)one. Art House, an arts/dance collective that The Huffington Post reports “is one of the only black run contemporary dance organizations in the country. No)one’s aim is to shift the paradigm on how people view dance, art and people of color’s bodies….” Artsmeme.com called No)one, “another harbinger that incredible things are happening in dance in Los Angeles.”

Williams’ upcoming opportunities in Los Angeles and London are the culmination of a distinguished college career.

“During my time at Hollins,” she says, “I have interned twice with our M.F.A. program in dance, including going to the program’s residency in Frankfurt, Germany. I also took part in the Hollins London abroad program, and have been able to attend a variety of conferences on topics surrounding LGBTQ+, dance and performance, and other social justice initiatives.”

This year, Williams served as chair of the university’s Black Student Alliance and has also been the external chair for the Hollins Repertory Dance Company. During her four years she was also actively involved with Cultural and Community Engagement, the Batten Leadership Institute, the Office of Admissions, Housing and Residence Life, the Office of Student Affairs, and many other campus activities.

“Paris is a tireless leader and social justice advocate,” says Meredith Cope-Levy ’12, M.F.A. ’18, Hollins’ coordinator of alumnae events. “She has made incredible work during her time here.”

Williams in turn praises the Hollins dance program for providing her with the foundation for her accomplishments as an undergraduate.

“I give loads of love and gratitude to HollinsDance, especially [Associate Professor of Dance] Jeffery Bullock, for my dedication, growth, and success at this university.”